Beyond the Woods – Domtar and Corporate Transparency

A key mission of Dogwood Alliance’s Paper Campaign has been educating people about Southern Forests and the impact of industrial forestry on these forests. It’s taken time for the corporate world to catch up with what we have known all along. These forests are home to amazing places and world class conservation values. The pulp and paper industry rely on them for millions of tons of fiber to turn into the paper products we use every day, so they must do their part to ensure the future of these forests. We’ve worked to make sure that when large corporate paper buyers make their buying decisions they always consider the industry’s environmental performance.

Businesses have responded to our work. Leading companies are now considering the environmental impacts of paper on the world’s forests and other natural resources. Like so many of us normal, concerned individuals, they are demanding visibility and transparency of the sources and environmental impacts of their paper.

Big business now has the expectation that its suppliers will provide that transparency and more environmentally responsible pulp, paper and wood.

With that background in mind, I checked into “The Paper Trail” transparency tool from the office paper giant Domtar that operates a number of large pulp and paper mills across the US South.

Paper Trail Logo

According to the company, “The Paper Trail® redefines sustainability, sharing the environmental, social and economic impacts of Domtar paper and offering customers the transparency they deserve.” As such, the Paper Trail is designed to answer three questions: “Where does my paper come from? What are the impacts of my purchase? Who are the people behind the product?”

Dogwood Alliance has engaged with the office paper giant Domtar ever since the Canadian company merged with Weyerhaeuser paper business and related assets in 2006, acquiring a pulp and paper mills in Kentucky, Tennessee, North and South Carolina to become the largest manufacturer of uncoated freesheet paper in North America and the second largest in the world. In fact, I attended the very first post-merger investor’s meeting held in Kingsport, TN. So, it’s fair to say that Dogwood is keenly interested in the environmental impacts disclosed in Domtar’s Paper Trail. Having recently reported on the company’s environmental performance in our March Green Grades Report, where Domtar graded well in some areas and not so well on others, Let’s take a look here at the economic and social impacts disclosed in the Paper Trail.

While this is not always front and center in our work, it’s important to recognize that the forest products industry has long been a huge economic force across the US and, in particular, the US South.  Even today, the industry ranks among the largest sectors in every Southern state, including jobs from the loggers in the woods to the truckers, paper mill workers, paper converters and so on. Domtar’s Paper Trail puts this front and center, localizing this concept by assessing the statewide economic impact of the forest products industry for the state in which each mill is located. For example, if you’re buying paper produced at the Kingsport, TN mill, your purchase helps support $1 billion in economic impact. And having visited Kingsport many times, I can personally report that the economic activity of the Domtar mill has supported a rebirth in that community.

Domtar Paper Trail 650

The third Paper Trail focus is the company’s social impact. Turning again to Domtar’s report on the social impact of the Kingsport mill, we see a strong and generous tradition of service in the community, ranging from United Way, the local food bank and lots of community volunteering. It’s nice to read these feel-good stories showcasing employees’ great community spirit.

Dogwood Alliance is proud to have helped catalyze the new norm of radical transparency of the environmental impacts of the forest products industry.

In fact Dogwood’s Green Grades report takes a much deeper dive into forest procurement impacts than Domtar’s Paper Trail report.  Today, the public and the large customers of the forest products industry demand transparency back to the forest of origin. In response to this new market expectation, industry is indeed moving to more fully report on their impacts. And the same can be said for civil society groups that are experts on evaluating corporate economic and social footprints. Domtar’s Paper Trail is an interesting and informative step along this journey.

It is important to recognize that this tool still just brushes the surface as to what a discerning purchaser must evaluate when making procurement decisions.

Domtar has stepped forward, but it is just a baby step. This type of transparency is a good thing. We need more of it. What is also clear is that Dogwood Alliance and civil society must continue to communicate our own opinion in the public sphere to balance out corporate efforts like this one.

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